A man who lost his father in a mass shooting 40 years ago – and law enforcement officers who responded to that shooting – asked a state board to keep Wichita Holiday Inn sniper Michael Soles behind bars forever.
Soles could be paroled in July. The Prisoner Review Board held a public hearing Wednesday to hear reasons why he should or should not be released.
No one spoke in favor of letting him go.
“I do not feel that this man should ever be paroled; he caused catastrophic damage here,” said Michael McKenna, a retired Wichita police officer who exchanged gunfire that pinned down Soles while other officers made their way to the 26th-floor balcony of the Garvey Building, then a Holiday Inn hotel.
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McKenna was the first officer to reach the body of Elmer Hensley, one of the three people killed by Soles, who wounded eight others in the 11-minute rampage on Aug. 11, 1976.
He said Hensley, a glass installer, had been on the top floor of the parking garage and was shot in the back, but dragged himself behind an air-conditioning unit where he bled to death.
“I bitterly remember that day even though it was almost 41 years ago,” he said. He also remembers the trial, where Soles’ lawyer attempted an insanity plea.
He said Soles’ story was that insanity caused him to think that McKenna was a brown bear that he was hunting on his family’s farm.
But he said Keith Sanborn, then the district attorney prosecuting the case, destroyed that argument by pointing out to the jury that “when the big brown bear fired back, he (Soles) knew to duck, and that’s not insanity.”
Hensley’s son, Carl, testified to the horrifying emotional cost the shooting levied on him and his mother.
He said that after the shooting, a police chaplain took his mother back and forth to St. Francis and Wesley hospitals twice, searching for his father.
Carl Hensley said that when he arrived at the hospital, he saw a gurney with a body bag on it, and opened the bag despite objections of the hospital staffers. He found his father’s body.
He said he then told the hospital staffers: “This is my father. You need to find my mother. He’s at least been found.”
He said workers’ compensation was the only insurance his father had and the insurer denied the claim. Although Elmer Hensley was on the job when he was shot, the killing was ruled not to be work-related, his son said.
“They didn’t want to set a precedent for future claims should things like this happen,” he said.
And then, police wouldn’t release his father’s wedding ring, which his mother wanted for the funeral. They had to hire an attorney and meet with the police chief to get it back, he said.
The others who died were Mark Falen, a 23-year-old loan officer, and Joe Goulart, a 56-year-old freelance photographer.
Also testifying on behalf of police was former Sedgwick County Sheriff Mike Hill, who was a police lieutenant at the time of the shooting.
He was one of three officers who confronted Soles on the hotel balcony and wounded him with shotgun blasts that put an end to the rampage.
“Eleven minutes changed this community,” Hill said of the shooting spree. “It was devastating to this community.”
“Mr. Soles chose to do what he did,” Hill added. “He doesn’t deserve to be released. He really doesn’t.”
In the 40 years he’s been behind bars, Soles has come up for parole eligibility four times and has been denied each time.
Sanborn, a retired Sedgwick County judge, cited motive as the reason that Soles should stay locked up forever.
He said the part of the rampage that keeps running through his mind was testimony from a girl who rode next to Soles on the bus to the Holiday Inn.
Soles told the girl, “You’re gonna be reading about me in the papers tomorrow,” Sanborn said.
He said mass shootings were almost unheard of at the time and Soles was copying shootings in Texas and Oklahoma.
“That’s his motive – publicity,” said Sanborn. “It is inconceivable to me that anyone would want to release him.”